I have been having some great yoga/martial arts training sessions recently with my karate instructor, Kyoshi John Leroux. We usually begin with a warm-up to get our heart rates elevated then do a few yoga poses and finish up by going through kata(a series of karate moves in a fixed pattern) and self defense techniques.
One of the yoga poses that we practiced this week was Pigeon or Kapotanasana (I have mentioned my love of this pose before!) We did a bit of flow, going from Sleeping Pigeon to One-Legged Pigeon. On an inhalation, you extend and arch back gently and then on an exhalation you fold forward into Sleeping Pigeon. Move between the two pigeon variations as you follow your breath. Yummmm…
As we moved through the flow, Kyoshi John commented that he teaches this as dolphin breathing. He described it like this: Take a deep breath in like a dolphin does when surfacing for air. You take in all of the oxygen that your body requires for the next cycle, exhale and fold forward like a dolphin diving.
Visualization can be a very beneficial practice that adds to the experience of deep breathing and relaxation. While doing the pigeon flow, I found the dolphin imagery was very powerful and brought strength and grace to the practice.
Dolphins have a prominent place across many cultures in stories and legends. They are often associated with divine powers. In ancient Greece, dolphins were seen as messangers of the gods and killing a dolphin was equal to killing a human.
Ancient Celts attributed the dolphin with healing powers and today recordings of dolphins and whales are used for relaxation and healing music tracks. Some Australian aborigine tribes regard dolphins as guardians.
Dolphins teach us how to live in sync with the rhythms and patterns of nature. They are sometimes said to symbolize the breath of life riding the waves of emotion. In many spiritual traditions, spiritual growth comes about by allowing ourselves the freedom to fully experience feelings and emotions.
Dolphins spend most of their day playing. They are joyful creatures who live harmoniously with one another. If one dolphin is hurt or ill, the others tend to it, bringing it to the surface to breathe. How beautiful is that?!
I came across a practice called “Iruka No Kokyu” or Dolphin Breathing Meditation. Deep breathing is a great way to relax and as mentioned above, when combined with imagery can augment the relaxation response. I love that this meditation focuses on the heart chakra, so very fitting with the dolphin’s nature.
Directions for Dolphin Breathing
- Find a comfortable seated position.
- Start by focusing on the natural rhythms of your breath.
- After a few moments, imagine that just like a dolphin you have a breathing hole on the top of your head.
- Visualize simultaneously inhaling upward from the feet and downwards from just above the head.
- See the breath meeting at the heart chakra. Pause and suspend the breath momentarily.
- Begin to exhale. As you do, imagine the breath flowing outward from the heart chakra and mingling with the energy around you.
- Repeat the dolphin breath for four sets of four breaths.